Later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
“Where does it hurt?”
Usually, I blog wholeheartedly about mental health, attempting to use substantive evidence to back my theses. But I need to do this one a bit differently. I need to tell you about myself. I need to take a post to explore myself a little bit and where I come from instead of just proselytizing my ideas about how I hope to live my future.
I’ll start by prefacing with a bit of Brene Brown (further cited as “BB”):
I’m 26 years old. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times as far as hardships go — bullied throughout my childhood, divorced parents, abusive father, a few bad relationships — though I know by no means my life is as bad as it gets. I am still a white, middle-class male, with a stable job in a safe city, with the right to vote and… well, countless other privileges I’m sure I’m not even aware of.
I sometimes think I struggle with knowledge: maybe if I wasn’t so aware of the world, I would be happier. For instance, I am not religious. There is an argument to be had that religious people are happier1 (with evidence for both sides — I could have cited any number of sources here). And I don’t want to have the religion debate here. I am simply saying that for me, there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate such a belief. Maybe you see things differently. That’s okay.
For me, my struggle is seeing that how I feel and how I believe others feel controverts how we, as a people and a society, seem to expect each other to act.
Sometimes I tell people about my blog and the reaction is a little adverse. One time someone immediately started talking about another blog that “wasn’t as heavy.” That’s fair. Mental illness can be a tough topic. But for my part, I always wish to choose honesty. I don’t think that pain has to be something we run from. It can be something we embrace. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice by pretending that we are all normal.
And maybe at a subconscious level we all know that everybody is screwed up. Maybe we just perpetuate the stereotype of being perfect unknowingly and unwillingly, like participants in a traffic jam: none of us want to be there, but for a seemingly uncontrollable reason it’s something we collectively force one another to do.2
Often the first thought that passes my mind when thinking of a solution to a social problem is, if everybody would just…. This seems to be the source of an irreconcilable disagreement between my friends and me about whether or not communism would work. If everybody would just share, and not take more than they need, communism would work (I don’t have to tell you my friends’ counter-argument is, “Yea, but as soon as one person takes more than they need — and one person would take more than they need…”).
Bear with me here. If everybody would just be completely open and honest, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t have such a stigma around mental disorder. And I really think the world would be a better place. Sure, at first it would be extremely uncomfortable, like ripping off a band-aid. But then the pain would subside, and maybe we’d all realize we’ve got the same wounds. We are all hiding for the same reason: we are afraid. And since everybody’s doing it, it must be cool.
Somehow we’ve created a norm of hiding behind faux invincibility, like being aloof and insouciant is somehow healthy and attractive. Look deep enough, though, and you will see that this is only a self-perpetuating stereotype (which are actual phenomena substantiated almost a ridiculous number of times3). Someone started it once, and now we are too afraid to make it stop. In my opinion, that’s the cause of most social self-perpetuation: doing something creates fear of not doing it which perpetuates doing it.
Frankly, it’s idiotic. I wish I had a wider vocabulary so I could tell you just how idiotic it was.
Seems like everybody’s got a price,
I wonder how they sleep at night
when the sale comes first
and the truth comes second —
Just stop for a minute and smile!
Why is everybody so serious?
Acting so damn mysterious?
Got your shades on your eyes
and your heels so high
that you can’t even have a good time.
Jessie J, ”Price Tag”
And if everybody would just take off their sunglasses, it would all be better, right? This is idealism. I am definitely an idealist. Some will say that idealism is “what happens before one experiences reality,” then queue laughter and, “How could you be so stupid?”
I think those people are using denigration as a defense mechanism because they are afraid to be vulnerable. For me, idealism doesn’t mean things are perfect. It doesn’t mean they will ever be perfect.
Idealism is having a vision of what is possible and wanting to make a difference. It is caring passionately about what is meaningful in life. Idealists see things as they could be and they have faith in the power of change. We put our principles into practice. We don’t just accept the way things are. We dare to have big dreams and then act as if they are possible.
Idealism doesn’t mean that we are idle dreamers. Idle dreamers just wish things were better. Idealists do something to make things better.
Linda Kavelin Popov
Since some of the people I’ve talked to struggle so hard with this concept, let me say it again: For me, idealism is not thinking things are perfect or that they can ever be completely, one-hundred percent perfect. Idealism is believing that better is out there, acting like it’s possible, and having faith that those actions can create change. Some change. Not perfection. Just some change.
What bothers me is the people I run into who are content to accept things as they are. I struggle to connect with people who simply sit and wish and do not try. Yes, most of our efforts will fail. I can promise that if you try, you will fail. But I can also promise you that if you do not try, you will not succeed. Trying is scary, but fear is telling you something.
Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time.
How can you be seen when you’ve armored up your entire life?
So in light of my idealism, my wish to make the world a more vulnerable place, this post is my part in being open and honest about my struggles. Here’s my part in ripping off the band-aid. In trying to break the stigma we seem to have created for ourselves that it’s not okay to be not okay. In trying to remind you that what we hide from the most — our fragility, our vulnerability, our pain — is the thing that connects us the most. And in my mind, there is nothing more meaningful to our lives than sharing the human experience.
Connection, along with love and belonging, is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.
This is arguably why some of the most popular movies and TV shows are about people who are brazenly honest (because we wish we were) or people who save others (because we resonate with both wanting to be the hero who makes people feel safe and wanting to be the rescue-ee who is made to feel safe). Maybe if we spent more time being honest ourselves, we’d watch less TV.
To be fair, vulnerability is hard work. All these stereotypes and stigmas make it exhausting. It seems that’s the way things are for now. This is why we see and resonate with expressions of pain. Pain is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, I find nothing more beautiful in life than the result of chasing after what you want the most. Yes, I truly believe that failure can be beautiful. We can and should discuss pain just like we can and should discuss fear.
And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory so much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.
I do struggle to maintain vulnerability. Because I am sickened by people who perpetuate untrue stereotypes. We all have the ability to do a thorough, fact-based investigation before making sweeping statements about groups of other people. Judging me for what I wear or what I say by the actions of people who came before me is the surest way to anger me.
It angers me because it’s untrue, but it also angers me because I have my own stereotypes. I pressure myself to be happy. I pressure myself to fit in. I can bear my soul to the internet (apparently) but one of my most personal struggles is the struggle to accept being unhappy. For some reason, somewhere in my brain there is a switch that hasn’t flipped yet that’s keeping me thinking, “You must be happy at all times.” Of course, I’m not. I’m unhappy most of the time. And being unhappy makes me more unhappy. I have yet to accept or find a way to substantiate that it’s okay to be unhappy sometimes. I know it’s true, of course. I just haven’t accepted it. So sometimes I am angry with myself because I am not happy. And trying to “let that in” is something I struggle with on a daily basis.
You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, someone not everyone knows how to love.
I am sickened by people who perpetuate untruths because I know how much damage perpetuating my own untruths has done to me. Lying to me is the surest way to gain my apathy. My deepest regrets are that I let people who are incapable of honesty so far into my life. Yes, we have to make ourselves vulnerable to allow others to do the same. But our vulnerabilities must increase in tandem. I have struggled in the past — in romantic relationships especially — to hold myself back when, though she may be blatantly lying about it, it is self-evident that the other participant is not interested in going any further. My biggest fear is not that I will never be happy. My biggest fear is that I will never be understood.
And yea, screw people who don’t make themselves as vulnerable as we make ourselves. But those people are out there. There will probably always be people who are afraid to rip off the band-aid.
Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for. Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.
On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself. We’ve all been hurt and we are all afraid to be hurt again. Sometimes it is all we can do to keep from hurting ourselves — either physically or mentally — but I don’t think having been hurt means we should give up. I think having been hurt means we took a risk, and we should be proud of having taken that risk. If you have ever taken that risk, then know this: I am proud of you. You did the right thing. Don’t ever be embarrassed about being yourself. If you find yourself among people who constantly make you feel that way, then find new people. Yes, have patience. Yes, be forgiving. The world needs more of both of those things. But the world does not need you to stay in unhealthy relationships, romantic or otherwise. The world needs you to brazenly be yourself.
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.
So this is the promise I make to the world. I will always do my absolute best to be honest. To make myself vulnerable for you, so you can see the real me, so you won’t be quite so afraid of being the real you.
If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I will do my best to accept you and love you for who you are. I know we probably come from different backgrounds, maybe we have different opinions, maybe some of our differences are irreconcilable. Maybe we will fight, break up, and have to decide who gets the dog and who gets the house. With vulnerability, there is inevitably pain. But I think that pain is worth it. I think what we get at the end of the day, when we are honest with each other, when we expose our true selves to the world and make every effort to love and accept one another, is much better than what we get from living in fear, behind shields and walls built by the ignorance of groupthink, using bitterness, fear-mongering, retaliation, and retribution to hide from our true selves, the fear of loving others, and the fear of asking to be loved ourselves.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
My psychologist would probably ask me where this comes from: why to me, it’s not a choice, but a compulsion, to believe that people are basically good. I have a few friends who think it’s crazy. And truth be told, I’m not really sure why I believe that. It’s not something I can substantiate with facts or studies like I make every effort to do with other parts of this blog and my life. Maybe I would be happier if I was more ignorant. I think that a lot. But I also think that a life without vulnerability isn’t a life worth living. I think the correlation between increased diagnosis of mental disorders and the decrease in vulnerability technology and other modern conveniences permit us (to be further discussed in a future post) is not entirely spurious.
I may never know why it seems an irrevocable part of my conscious is idealistic in this way. Right now, all I know is that it’s a part of me I have to fight for. The best way I can think of to fight for vulnerability is by making myself vulnerable and doing my best to accept and love others who do the same. Right now, all I have to substantiate these actions are the quotes of famous people. So if you don’t listen to me, listen to them. Because, the most popular people in our lives — authors, poets, musicians, humanitarians, and philosophers, for instance — are telling you the same.
After the war we said we’d fight together.
I guess we thought that’s just what humans do:
letting darkness grow,
as if we need its palette
as if we need its colour.
But now I’ve seen it through,
and now I know the truth.That anything could happen…
anything could happen.
Ellie Goulding, ”Anything Could Happen”
1Barber, N. “Are Religious People Happer?” Psychology Today, November 20th, 2012. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201211/are-religious-people-happier.
2Kreider, T. “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” The New York Times, Opinionator, June 30th, 2012. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/.
3Plous, S. “The psychology of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination: An overview.” In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination, pp. 3-48. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
Previously published on TripTheLife.com
This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness. To submit your story, see below.
Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.
The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.
For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Post that discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.
The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century.
Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.
As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”
We are partnering together on this Call For Submissions, because our missions overlap and because we want to extend this conversation further.
If you are a man living with mental illness, and want to share your story, we would love to help.
To submit to the Good Men Project, please submit here.
To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.
Submissions will run in both publications. When you submit, please make sure to let us know you submitting as part of this Joint Call for Submissions with Stigma Fighters and Good Men Project.
Feel free to contact us:
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